Editor’s note: Story updated with additions and changes throughout.
One of the top things on the to-do list of the new Fort Smith city administrator is to look for a new police chief. Fort Smith Police Chief Kevin Lindsey told officers on Thursday (March 10) he is resigning effective April 11.
Lindsey’s resignation marks the sixth top person in city management to retire since July. No word was given for his resignation, and the body of his letter to Acting City Administrator Jeff Dingman noted only: “Effective Monday, April 11, 2016, I hereby resign from my position as chief of police for the City of Fort Smith.”
The Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday named Carl Geffken as the new city administrator. Geffken is expected to start in April though a start date has not been set at this time as he will need time to notify his current employer and arrange for housing, according to Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders.
Dingman said he is not sure what happens with police department leadership after April 11. He said an interim chief could be appointed from within the department. As to the search process, Dingman said the timing between Geffken’s arrival and Lindsey’s April 11 resignation also creates some uncertainty.
“I’m not certain if a start date for Mr. Geffken has been determined yet. The Mayor (Sandy Sanders) is working on those details with him. Presuming there’s some overlap, then Mr. Geffken would have the official call on the interim. I presume one of the three majors from the department would likely be tapped as an interim chief,” Dingman noted in an e-mail.
Dingman said Lindsey, who has been police chief more than eight years, has been “solid” during his time with the city.
“I think it is certainly is a big change for the city and the department. I think Chief Lindsey has served the department well. … I think he has had a good tenure with the city,” Dingman said, adding that Lindsey “has been a solid department head from my perspective.”
The police department, which has around 165 officers, has been under fire in recent years for issues that include inappropriate relationships with prostitutes, whistleblower and discrimination lawsuits, sexual harassment of rookie trainees by senior officers, and an allegation of perjury by a police captain.
Lindsey said the perjury allegation against Fort Smith Police Captain Jarrard Copeland are “weak in substance.” Little Rock attorney Matt Campbell alleges that Copeland lied under oath on Aug. 29, 2014, as part of a hearing related to a whistleblower lawsuit by plaintiffs Don Paul Bales, Rick Entmeier and Wendall Sampson. Circuit Judge James Cox ordered an investigation of the perjury charges.
Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck said Thursday his department turned over its investigation findings to Sebastian County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Shue. Shue’s office issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying the investigation “remains ongoing,” and “further comment would be inappropriate.”
The police department has also been criticized for having so few minorities. The department has not promoted a black officer since 1988 and has not hired a black officer since 1995. In an early December interview, Lindsey said the department should have a percentage much closer to the 9%, which is the percentage of blacks in the city of Fort Smith population.
OTHER CITY MANAGEMENT VACANCIES
Geffken filled the post that was opened when Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack suddenly resigned in early July. He had been with the city 16.5 years, with almost five years of that as city administrator.
Fort Smith Fire Chief Mike Richards announced Sept. 2 he would step down on Oct. 30 after almost 33 years with the department. Richards, 60, said the decision to retire was based solely on “providing 100%” of his time to family support rather than firefighting support.
Human Resources Director Richard Jones announced Sept. 21 he would resign effective Oct. 2. He was with the city 14 years.
Baridi Nkokheli, the head of Fort Smith’s Department of Sanitation for more than 10 years and popular re-enactor of legendary U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves, was fired Dec. 7 by acting City Administrator Jeff Dingman. Dingman said the violations were serious enough to warrant sudden dismissal and would stand up under scrutiny.
Long-time utilities director Steve Parke announced Feb. 23 he would retire April 1.